Garage Project Planning Checklist

Compliments of Behm Design Garage Plans . . . Questions? . . . call

by Jay Behm – This checklist has been prepared to assist you in planning your garage-building project. There are a number of variables that may or may not apply ……. These items should include most of the possibilities:

1. Property Records: Your property records file will probably include the Legal Description for the property. Along with that may be diagrammatic Plot Plan or simple sketch showing your property dimensions and pertinent legal ownership data. (also see item number 4.)

2. Building Permit Requirements: Visit or contact your local Building Department, either city or county jurisdiction, and the counterperson should have a sheet or package of information regarding local requirements for obtaining a Building Permit. You will find information regarding submittal for building permit review stating what must be in the “garage plans” or “plansets”, what is required for a Plot Plan or Site Plan and which Building Code(s) you must comply with. Usually the person you can speak to will be a Permit Coordinator or, possible a Plans Examiner. They usually want to make sure you understand all of the requirements for granting a building permit for your project.

3. Zoning Criteria: Your local Planning Dept. (also called Zoning Dept. or Community Development Dept.) can help you determine which Zone classification you reside in. Each zone has its own specific parameters for property development including:

  • building setback from property line dimensions
  • maximum building structure coverage of lot (in terms of a
  • percentage – %)
  • maximum allowable building height (and how to calculate)
  • special conditions and limitations for accessory buildings.
  • Adjacency requirements relating to easements, rights of way, etc.
  • secondary dwellings, mother-in-law apartments, legality and such things

4. Property Records Research: If you don’t have your property’s legal description available, you can go to your County offices to research records of Plats and developments. You will need your property tax identification number (from your property tax statement) and/or street address. The technicians will be able to find records of your property, including legal descriptions.

(Even if you live within a City jurisdiction and will apply for a City building permit, you will likely need to get property records from your County office. Property records are a function of County level government and are a matter of public record.)

5. Other Specific Restrictions: Many developments have C, C & R (covenants, codes and restrictions) language in place. These create additional controls on what can and cannot be done regarding modifications or further development of a property. Occasionally they will conflict with zoning and/or building code parameters created after your development was established. Generally, the local building department has greater authority in such matters than the development….BUT…there are exceptions. Check with your building department to be sure.

6. Feasibility: By analyzing the information you’ve collected, you can see if, indeed you can build that detached garage, shop, home office, rental dwelling unit, or recreation room. You can use grid paper to create a scale plan of your property. Select a scale of feet per grid space and lay out your property boundaries in accurate dimensional scale. Measure and lay out all existing structures, locate setbacks, driveways, septic tanks, vaults, power poles, drainfields, and other dimensional parameters. With your plot plan in scale you should be able to determine what sized building would fit on the property.

This is a critical step with many potentially complex issues to address. In many cases, you will easily discover what can be built. Also, in many cases, it will be necessary to work with the technicians at your building and/or zoning department. In some cases you will need to consult with a professional engineer, planner, lawyer or architect. Issues relating to site drainage, soil conditions, topography, view corridors, flood planes and aesthetic design review boards can make a seemingly simple project enormously complex. Doing a thorough job of analysis before ordering plans or signing contracts can save lots of your time and money.

7. Design Selection: If you are working with an architect or a designer, you will go through a design process to create a unique building design and the necessary working drawings and engineering for permits and construction. The process will take several weeks to several months and can be quite expensive. However, you would have the privilege of creating a unique design responding to your specific needs. If you elect to purchase a stock plan, pre-drawn set of plans, you can begin almost immediately. Many stock plan providers can customize the plans to your needs, which does add to cost, but is still an economical alternative to full custom design services.

This too, is a critical step. The plans you select must satisfy local building code requirements. If they don’t, they will be rejected when you apply for a building permit. Quality stock plans are up-to-date with current state or local building codes (which are based on the IRC code) and they will be approved for building permits in most cases.

8. Cost Analysis: Whether you plan to build the project yourself or hire a general contractor, construction cost is always important. You can show a diagrammatic, simple plan with dimensions to a general contractor and get an approximation of cost. There are other project-specific items to consider such as site preparation, driveway access, power, drainage, sewer, etc. Working with a general contractor is advantageous in that their experience will help them determine likely project costs. If you can get a building materials list for a particular design, you can take it to a supplier for a package price quote. Concrete slab and foundation work are typically not included in a supplier’s quote. You can , with a cubic yard quantity of concrete work approximated, describe the type of work to a concrete installer and get cost estimate for that work only.

These quotes and estimates are typically in the ballpark and should only be used for your preliminary decision-making including which building design planset to order, how to finance the project (would there be a cash flow from constructing a rental unit? for example) and project timing and taking advantage of current interest rates, etc.

Whether the building project is simple or complex, whether you hire a general contractor to build the project or you build it yourself, making as many decisions as early as possible will simplify the project greatly and minimize later delays and confusion.

9. Additional Items To Investigate:

  • storm water drainage detention system
  • site drainage plan
  • on-site or off-site sanitary sewage
  • electrical/lighting/available services/temporary power
  • seismic (earthquake) engineering requirements
  • high wind speed/exposure engineering requirements
  • heavy snow load requirements
  • “environmental sensitivity” designation
  • “landslide hazard designation”
  • city/county/state road traffic issues
  • architectural/historical district requirements for review
  • requirements for professional topographic and boundary survey
  • requirements for geotechnical (soils) analysis
  • requirements for sloping sites (usually if greater than 15%)
  • requirement for architect’s or engineer’s stamp (unlikely for small buildings)
  • seasonal building moratoriums